Leading on the Brink

haulin netI have wide-ranging K-12 leadership responsibilities that include media, technology, arts, athletics, health, distance learning. Another area, second languages, is on the horizon. To handle this variety, I employ large doses of creativity, new media, communication, spreadsheets and energy.

When Miguel Guhlin tapped me in the “7 Leaders” meme, I thought of this twist: How do my leadership skills jibe with the six critical aptitudes Daniel Pink lists for success in the Conceptual Age?

The following self-examination addresses Pink’s critical aptitudes in terms of my leadership style:

Design—Maybe it’s just eye candy, but blogs can add the aesthetic characteristics so lacking in our school sytsem’s Front Page web world. Compare the boxiness of my department’s website with the zing of Haulin’ ‘Net, Bridges Alternative School and Peregrinations. Plus, blogging is attainable. One need not own the software nor be a webmaster (webmaster, now that is a word from another era!).

Story—I can spin yarns. I’m not bad with the words, but I prefer to make New Media Stories. My value lies in helping others tell their stories. We do that with school tech plans, CoachCasts, and political maneuvering. My own professional story is told through Haulin’ ‘Net. It is my attempt at organizational transparency.

Symphony— Worldview is key. I understand the whole by understanding the parts; I encourage dialog; I gain perspective; I vet properly; I read widely. I gain understanding of the big picture by directing several K-12 programs. I have a principal’s degree and have done internships in school admin, so I understand the principals’ perspectives. I connect my dots to those of state initiatives, national conversations, and research. This keeps me from provincial thinking.

Empathy— People first: I leave the ivory tower every chance I get; I interact with students, teachers, all levels of staff, admin, and parents from all schools. I invest in people—putting the money where it matters. Every summer, I travel around the county visiting principals for genuine F2F dialog on how the programs I lead can add value to their instructional priorities and operational initiatives.

— I ride with rebels: OK, maybe we don’t have Harley’s (yet), but we have Treks, Cannondales, Giants. We put in a lot of time on the road with fast bicycles. A lot of time to contemplate and test the limits of human potential. A lot of risk-taking, survival skills, and character building. I bring play and adventure to the job. At the beginning of the year, I raffle off to the winning school a trip for five to the North Carolina Association of Education and Communication Technology Conference. This Friday, I will assemble the K-8 PE teachers to learn and play what for us is a new game, Tchoukball.

Meaning— I may ride with the rebels, but I play with the angels. One way I keep connected with our ultimate clients (students) is to play the guitar in our church’s Teen Life Band. I am the “teen” in the band with salt and pepper hair, gimpy knees, and failing eyes. Everything comes together when the voices rise in song . . . and they are backed by guitars, drums, keyboards, horns, and woodwinds. Sure, I know this is symphony. But when the music is in tune, passionate, and flowing—then the band and the congregation share a powerful synergy that embodies meaning in life. I get a similar charge out of youth soccer and metaphysical contemplation.

So, there are Pink’s six critical aptitudes in relation to my leadership style. But wait! Miguel asked for seven qualities. Here’s one more:

Innovation—I thrive on the edges. I have had at least three jobs that were invented for me (by me, with me?) in the organizations for which I’ve worked over the last twelve years. This ability to innovate new solutions may be the most important quality to embrace for all who are dedicated to preparing students for success in the future. This is the quality that separates leadership from management.

I will not assign this meme further, though I would love to read comments or blog entries that it might spawn. Every one of us in the business of k-12 education has leadership responsibilities. Every one of us should take precious moments for introspection. We gain collective insight, even collective enlightenment, when those individual reflective moments are shared.



One Response to Leading on the Brink

  1. vicki fritz says:

    Joe, this is truly the way I see you…You are a man who has vision, but you do not combine it with ego…my favorite version of a true leader.

    You took my school up a notch when you gave us the ability to create a blog about Bridges. We are using the blog as a tool for recording our journey as we work to create an alternative school that is second to none. To that end, I have challenged my staff to think about their instructional process and to redefine their vision of teaching. Tamara Ishee, (with her vision of a school that truly engages and challenges kids) has inspired me to attempt a mini ‘High Tech High’ approach. You have begun to give me the skills to do it.

    Thanks for everything, Joe!

    Vicki Fritz

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